Michael Mizrahi: The Bright Motion
No doubt pianist Michael Mizrahi could have released a collection of austere works by the likes of Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg were he so inclined, but the choice of material for his debut solo piano recording runs in a more accessible direction. This isn't the first time he's appeared in textura, either, because Mizrahi is not only a soloist of the first rank but also a founding member of Now Ensemble, whose forward-thinking chamber music has been reviewed in these pages before. Relatedly, one reason why The Bright Motion sounds so cohesive is because some of the composers whose newly commissioned works are featured (two composed specifically for the album) have ties to the ensemble (like Mizrahi, Patrick Burke and Judd Greenstein are co-founders and members, and Mark Dancigers is the group's guitarist), making the recording feel unified and communal in spirit. This exceptional recording, one more in a long line of superb New Amsterdam releases, features world premiere recordings of pieces by Dancigers, Burke, Greenstein, William Brittelle, Ryan Brown, and John Mayrose, most of which were composed between 2007 and 2011.
The work by such composers is more inclined to reveal the influence of a more recent figure such as Steve Reich than Luigi Nono; that's sometimes apparent in the rhythmically heavy emphasis of some pieces, even if the rhythms involved hardly hew to a strict minimalistic design. Furthermore, one is more likely to hear echoes of Debussy's Children Corner in the works performed than anything serial-minded. Though Greenstein's “First Ballade” is said to be influenced by Chopin, Ravel comes through just as powerfully in the brilliant runs that course through the wide-ranging setting. In such cases, Mizrahi, currently a Professor of Piano at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Wisconsin, shows himself to be a virtuoso but one whose technical command is deployed for musical purposes first and foremost.
Burke's opening “Unravel” does exactly that as it unfolds through a series of cascades that start out in a predominantly reflective mode and then grow increasingly agitated before cresting in triumphant manner. What stands out most noticeably about Brown's “Four Pieces for Solo Piano 1” is that it requires the performer to play in the highest register of the piano, and consequently Brown's four miniatures exude an airier quality than others on the recording. Its loveliest moments emerge during the title piece, especially the twelve-minute first part, which Dancigers composed specifically for the album in 2011. Stately trills repeat operatically throughout, creating wave-like effects whose lulling motions impart a dream-like, incantatory feeling to the material—bright motion, indeed. The delicate ending is especially beautiful, and there's a similarly affecting gentleness to Mayrose's “Faux Patterns,” which at times slows to near-stillness in the notes that fall around a central, two-note oscillation (F and Gb). Consonant, harmonious, and melodic, the album's material stays true to the solo piano tradition yet speaks with a modern voice, and in doing so re-affirms the relevance and vitality of the piano as a means of expression.